Do you want to improve our education system? Stop asking faraway gurus for advice



This article by Glenn C. Savage, associate professor of educational policy at the University of Western Australia, originally appeared in The Conversation on September 21.

Over the past two decades, Australian governments have committed tremendous energy and resources to transforming schools across our country.

The driving force behind many reforms has been a tale of panic and failure, often centered on the continued decline in the number of Australian students in the OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).

When Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge announced a further review of teacher education in May, he followed a predictable reform scenario. Australian students, he said, have “fallen behind” in the PISA world rankings, are “considerably overwhelmed” and this will have serious consequences for “the country’s long-term productivity and competitiveness”.

Tudge has set a goal of bringing Australia back among the best countries in the world for education by 2030, and argued that more domestic reforms are needed to achieve this. It reflected a long line of goals and similar proclamations from federal ministers who argued that we must pursue common national reforms based on evidence of “what works.”

The problem is, these grand attempts to revolutionize schools are not working.

Not only did Australia enter a rapid free fall on PISA, but several other performance metrics stagnated or retreated. About one in five young Australians do not complete grade 12, intolerable achievement gaps persist between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students, and the race for high ATARs (and elite college entry) is dominated by young people from the richest backgrounds.

Australia reproduces a deeply inequitable and underperforming system.

This raises a crucial question: if “what works†doesn’t actually work, then what should we be doing differently? In my new book, The Quest for Revolution in Australian Schooling Policy, I describe several ways we might reimagine education reform.

What’s the problem with doing “what works”?

Governments and policymakers around the world are seeking to align schooling policies with evidence that tells us ‘what works’.

At the root of this reform movement is a seductive attraction to order, which assumes that positive results will flow from the standardization of various school systems around common practices that have apparently “proven themselves”.

This logic has inspired all major educational reforms since the late 2000s, from the introduction of the Standardized Literacy and Numeracy Tests (NAPLAN) to the creation of an Australian curriculum based on common achievement standards. .

To a casual observer, it may seem logical that we aspire to be the best in the world and that we develop “evidence-based†standards to achieve it. Yet there are several reasons why doing “what works†often doesn’t work at all.

The main problem with this approach is that while there may be some evidence to tell us that reform works “somewhere”, proponents often take this to mean it will work everywhere.

This can produce a series of negative impacts. On the one hand, prioritizing evidence that can seemingly be applied at all levels may devalue local and context-specific knowledge and evidence.

While it can be widely useful to examine what “high impact teaching strategies†look like, we should never assume that such evidence can be applied in the same way in all schools.

After all, what works best at a remote public school in Broome is very unlikely to be the same as what works best at an elite private school in Darlinghurst.

Without critical and nuanced engagement with evidence claims, these lists and toolkits can be a powerful deterrent for the profession to generate and share locally produced evidence. This, in turn, can lead to erasure of evidence that does not match mainstream knowledge.

At worst, when the evidence is determined by top-down government intervention and based on global knowledge curated by think tanks, businesses and education organizations like the OECD, educators are relegated to mere “implementers.” Of ideas from elsewhere.

At work here is an arrogance of design and a privilege from the perspective of remote designers over that of professionals with in-depth knowledge of the local spaces in which they work.

What’s the best way forward?

Australian school policy is being made upside down.

My book describes ways to reverse the reform scenario. Let me briefly mention three.

First, Australia must stop listening to the loud voices of education gurus and members of the global ‘consultocracy’ who claim to have ‘the answer’.

Instead, we should invest energy and resources to inspire local networks of evidence-building and knowledge-sharing. This organic, bottom-up approach trusts the profession to experiment, solve problems, and collaborate to create solutions in context.

This is not an argument against experts and expertise, but a call to reframe the way we understand these terms.

Australia has fallen into a model where the experts and expertise that shape reforms are no longer in the schools. This urgently needs to be rebalanced.

Second, we must move beyond industrial ways of thinking that equate the work of educators with that of factory workers on a production line.

Rather than investing millions in reforms that bind educators to strict norms and lists of strategies, we need to recognize that schools are complex and diverse social ecologies and that educators’ work is non-routine and ever-changing. .

Thus, while it may be useful to have external evidence and standards to inform practice, its relevance to practical and local knowledge is only partial at best.

We don’t really know that proofs work when we see them work in specific classes, and what works in one class won’t work in all classes.

Third, we need to move beyond the damaging assumption that similarity and similarity between systems and schools is the path to improvement.

The grand designs to revolutionize and standardize practices are not a panacea.

Rather than approaching educational reform as technicians seeking to improve the functioning of the ‘machine’, perhaps we should think and act more like gardeners, seeking to build the ecosystems necessary for growth and maintenance. the flourishing of various things.

This article is republished from The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read it original article.



Leave A Reply